“The Essex Serpent”: A New Series Starring Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston

Apple TV has released Sarah Perry’s much-anticipated adaptation, The Essex Serpent. It stars Claire Danes, Tom Hiddleston, and others. Clio Barnard directed the six-part drama. Anna Symon adapted it. The series is richly-textured and moody, with a slow creeping pace that forebodes a fascinating story of myth, religion, and lusty yearning.

The Essex Serpent is set in 19th-century England. It follows Cora Seaborne, played by Claire Danes, a widow who has a passion about palaeontology and moves from London to Essex with Frankie, her son, and Martha (played in part by Hayley Squires). Cora is intrigued by the sightings of a mythical creature, a giant snake, and she sets out to investigate further. Will Ransom, played by Tom Hiddleston, is the local vicar who questions Cora’s belief in the serpent’s existence.

The Essex Serpent is an engaging series featuring nuanced performances by its two main actors. The mystery of the serpent unleashes a surprising bond between Cora, Will and the local vicar.

The series’ opening foreshadows the rest of the series. A young woman is cleaning herself in the darkened estuary, which runs through the misty marshes. She asks for forgiveness from a man she calls snake. Her sister watches and flees when she sees her being attacked in the water. The serpent symbol is clearly shown from the beginning. There are many metaphors from folklore, religion or Greek mythology that can be used to describe sexuality, original sins, death, rebirth and other aspects of life.

Cora, a recently widowed woman in London, receives the news about this gigantic serpent. Flashbacks are used to show Cora as a woman who is able to think for herself and not be controlled by her abusive husband. Cora feels that her husband kept her in London. She tells Luke Garrett, a London-based heart surgeon, that she is free to do whatever she wants.

Cora meets Will in Aldwinter and they fight between faith, reason, and faith. While the man of belief doubts the existence of the serpent’s existence, he insists that there isn’t one. The modern woman in the city, however, tells the vicar that she doesn’t believe in God and believes in the existence the creature. The story challenges the notions of thinking and believing and asks what the difference is. Cracknell, a local man, is the outcast from his village because he doesn’t go to church. The distinction is obvious. He tells her that the serpent is not a matter of belief. This suggests that even if there is a serpent, it isn’t the devil’s incarnation, which is what the village believes. Cora is unsure of this distinction, telling Will that she isn’t sure if there is a difference between believing and thinking. Science requires faith for Cora.

Audiences will be drawn to the attraction and tension between Cora, Will and Stella, who are already married to Stella (played here by Clemence Poetry). Their chemistry onscreen is convincingly displayed by Claire Danes & Tom Hiddleston. Claire Danes’ portrayal of Cora is especially captivating. She is captivated by her sense of wonder when she speaks about science with passion, and her vulnerability in dealing with the trauma from her past with her abusive husband.

This series has a heavy feel to it, with the thick winter clothes and dark interiors. Clio Barnard created this Gothic-like and tactile atmosphere for Sarah Perry’s story.

The Essex Serpent has been on apple TV+ since May 13th, with a new episode each week.

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